“Scrutinizing Bush’s Record”?

Scrutinizing Bush’s record,” a July 14 commentary by the Chicago Tribune‘s Public Editor, Don Wycliff, was a cop-out. Plain and simple.

Wycliff cites an email he received from a reader noting that on July 11, commentaries by Dennis Byrne and Derrick Z. Jackson (as syndicated by the Boston Globe) recalled very different reasons for the March, 2003 war over Iraq. Byrne’s commentary emphasized the White House’s desire “for freedom and stability, especially in the violent and oppressed Middle East.” Jackson’s that the Iraq war was “waged over what turned out to be a lie, the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.”

Confronted with these two contrasting accounts of the historical record, Wycliff responded:

Unfortunately, in a case like this one, establishing the facts, as opposed to the “phony” ones, is not as simple as getting the transcripts and deciding which rendition of them–Byrne’s or Jackson’s–is right. That’s like saying: Get a copy of the Constitution, read it and then decide which party in any of the myriad cases that come before the federal courts each year is right.

I spent several hours Tuesday reading on the White House Web site all the statements made by the president about Iraq from January 2002 until the start of the war in March 2003. And I can state unequivocally that Bush said what Byrne says he said and what Jackson says he said also.

Now. Does Wycliff really expect the Chicago Tribune‘s readers to believe that in assessing the validity of the pre-war record of the reasons given by the Bush Administration to justify its war over Iraq, the Administration itself gave as much weight to the niceties of “freedom and stability” (or “spreading democracy” or whatever else one cares to cite) as it did to countering the alleged threat posed by Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction”? Allegations that not only have been proven incontestably false. But, as the minutes of the high-level meeting of July 23, 2002 between the British Prime Minister and his cabinet and Labour Party advisors suggest, were deliberately falsified as well.

No. In the whole pre-war series of reasons marshaled by the Bush Administration, only one reason really mattered: The reason for which the American Secretary of State was dispatched to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003: Iraq’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction.” And the alleged “threat” that these non-existent weapons posed not only to the United States, but to the world. So it turns out that there is no symmetry between what Dennis Byrne wrote and what Derrick Z. Jackson wrote. If the game is Gotcha!, then the prize goes to Wycliff’s email correspondent. Hands-down.

But Wycliff’s commentary evades another point—though in doing so, he joins a silent chorus, I’m afraid. Namely, the fact that the American-led war over Iraq was a criminal war.

This one is such a no-brainer, I’m almost too embarrassed to discuss it here. Nevertheless. Iraq neither attacked the United States. Nor threatened to attack the United States. Nor, in attacking Iraq, did the United States act in self-defense. (The reason for the lies about “weapons of mass destruction,” by the way, was so the Americans could pretend they were defending the world.—But did not Livy remind us that the Romans also conquered the world in self-defense?)

Therefore, unarguably, the American-led war was a war of aggression. A crime against the peace. Indeed, the principal crime for which the Nazis were convicted at Nuremberg. The “supreme international crime,” in Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson’s words, “differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Look. This American war violated the Charter of the United Nations. It violated customary international law. And it had no authorization by the UN Security Council—the last fig-leaf of legitimacy that the government of Tony Blair had hoped to secure. No. The Iraqis did not cause this war. The Americans did. In this case, all of the major criminals are home-grown.

But perhaps most ominous of all, in the White House’s September, 2002 decree that the United States is in unique possession of the “option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security“—of the unique right to wage wars of aggression, that is—in essence, the Bush Doctrine—we find the gravest danger that any state poses to international peace and security today. And this danger is us, my friends. American institutions. American militarism. American contempt for the rule of law. But also American apologetics for American crimes.

Because of this, the American political leadership now stands in exactly the same position that the dread Saddam Hussein stood some 15 years ago this August: That of naked aggressors, having seized another people’s territory through violent, criminal means. The only difference being, of course, that in August, 1990, there were other states in the world mightier than Iraq that could counter Iraq’s military seizure of Kuwait.

True, one may dress-up this criminal war in any number of ways, including the need to counter the former Iraqi regime’s “drive toward an arsenal of terror” or to promote “freedom and stability, especially in the violent and oppressed Middle East.” But these are lies. And like all lies, they ring equally hollow.

Nor can these lies do anything to mitigate the criminality of the political leadership that launched the war in the first place.

Insofar as the prosecution of these crimes is concerned, the rest is up to us.

Cowards we are not,” Dennis Byrne, Chicago Tribune, July 11, 2005
A look in the mirror for America,” Derrick Z. Jackson, Chicago Tribune, July 11, 2005
Scrutinizing Bush’s record,” Don Wycliff, Chicago Tribune, July 14, 2005

National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The President of the United States of America, September, 2002 (For the PDF version of the same.)
- Section V. “Prevent Our Enemies from Threatening Us, Our Allies, and Our Friends with Weapons of Mass Destruction

President Bush Delivers Graduation Speech at West Point,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, June 1, 2002
President’s Remarks at the United Nations General Assembly,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, September 12, 2002
Iraq: Denial and Deception” (Note that within the Bush Administration’s current electronic archives, anything that dealt with Iraq after October 1, 2002, included this banner across the top of the webpage.)
President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, October 7, 2002
Iraq Must Disarm Says President in South Dakota Speech,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, November 3, 2002
President Pleased with U.N. Vote,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, November 8, 2002
‘Why We Know Iraq is Lying’, A Column by Dr. Condoleezza Rice,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, January 23, 2003 (originally published in the New York Times, Jan. 23, 2003)
President Delivers ‘State of the Union’,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, January 28, 2003 [See the relevant excerpt below]
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Addresses the U.N. Security Council,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, February 5, 2003
President Bush: ‘World Can Rise to This Moment’,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, February 6, 2003
President Welcomes NATO’s Defense Planning Committee Decision,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, February 19, 2003
President Discusses the Future of Iraq,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, February 26, 2003
President Bush: Monday ‘Moment of Truth’ for World on Iraq,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, March 16, 2003
President Bush Addresses the Nation,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, March 19, 2003

Excerpted from: “President Delivers ‘State of the Union’,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, January 28, 2003


Our nation and the world must learn the lessons of the Korean Peninsula and not allow an even greater threat to rise up in Iraq. A brutal dictator, with a history of reckless aggression, with ties to terrorism, with great potential wealth, will not be permitted to dominate a vital region and threaten the United States. (Applause.)

Twelve years ago, Saddam Hussein faced the prospect of being the last casualty in a war he had started and lost. To spare himself, he agreed to disarm of all weapons of mass destruction. For the next 12 years, he systematically violated that agreement. He pursued chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, even while inspectors were in his country. Nothing to date has restrained him from his pursuit of these weapons — not economic sanctions, not isolation from the civilized world, not even cruise missile strikes on his military facilities.

Almost three months ago, the United Nations Security Council gave Saddam Hussein his final chance to disarm. He has shown instead utter contempt for the United Nations, and for the opinion of the world. The 108 U.N. inspectors were sent to conduct — were not sent to conduct a scavenger hunt for hidden materials across a country the size of California. The job of the inspectors is to verify that Iraq’s regime is disarming. It is up to Iraq to show exactly where it is hiding its banned weapons, lay those weapons out for the world to see, and destroy them as directed. Nothing like this has happened.

The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax — enough doses to kill several million people. He hasn’t accounted for that material. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

The United Nations concluded that Saddam Hussein had materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin — enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure. He hadn’t accounted for that material. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He’s not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them — despite Iraq’s recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

From three Iraqi defectors we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs. These are designed to produce germ warfare agents, and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors. Saddam Hussein has not disclosed these facilities. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.

The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary; he is deceiving. From intelligence sources we know, for instance, that thousands of Iraqi security personnel are at work hiding documents and materials from the U.N. inspectors, sanitizing inspection sites and monitoring the inspectors themselves. Iraqi officials accompany the inspectors in order to intimidate witnesses.

Iraq is blocking U-2 surveillance flights requested by the United Nations. Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as the scientists inspectors are supposed to interview. Real scientists have been coached by Iraqi officials on what to say. Intelligence sources indicate that Saddam Hussein has ordered that scientists who cooperate with U.N. inspectors in disarming Iraq will be killed, along with their families.

Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. But why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate, or attack.

With nuclear arms or a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East and create deadly havoc in that region. And this Congress and the America people must recognize another threat. Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own.

Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans — this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes. (Applause.)

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option. (Applause.)

The dictator who is assembling the world’s most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages — leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind, or disfigured. Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are obtained — by torturing children while their parents are made to watch. International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape. If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning. (Applause.)

And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country — your enemy is ruling your country. (Applause.) And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation. (Applause.)

The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq’s ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi’s legal — Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.

We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him. (Applause.)

Tonight I have a message for the men and women who will keep the peace, members of the American Armed Forces: Many of you are assembling in or near the Middle East, and some crucial hours may lay ahead. In those hours, the success of our cause will depend on you. Your training has prepared you. Your honor will guide you. You believe in America, and America believes in you. (Applause.)

Sending Americans into battle is the most profound decision a President can make. The technologies of war have changed; the risks and suffering of war have not. For the brave Americans who bear the risk, no victory is free from sorrow. This nation fights reluctantly, because we know the cost and we dread the days of mourning that always come.

We seek peace. We strive for peace. And sometimes peace must be defended. A future lived at the mercy of terrible threats is no peace at all. If war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause and by just means — sparing, in every way we can, the innocent. And if war is forced upon us, we will fight with the full force and might of the United States military — and we will prevail. (Applause.)

And as we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring to the Iraqi people food and medicines and supplies — and freedom. (Applause.)

Many challenges, abroad and at home, have arrived in a single season. In two years, America has gone from a sense of invulnerability to an awareness of peril; from bitter division in small matters to calm unity in great causes. And we go forward with confidence, because this call of history has come to the right country.

Americans are a resolute people who have risen to every test of our time. Adversity has revealed the character of our country, to the world and to ourselves. America is a strong nation, and honorable in the use of our strength. We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers.

Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity. (Applause.)

We Americans have faith in ourselves, but not in ourselves alone. We do not know — we do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them, placing our confidence in the loving God behind all of life, and all of history.

May He guide us now. And may God continue to bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

FYA (“For your archives”): Am depositing here copies of the three Chicago Tribune commentaries mentioned above. Public Editor Don Wycliff’s first, followed by Dennis Byrne’s and Derrick Z. Jackson’s (which originated in the Boston Globe).

Chicago Tribune
July 14, 2005
Scrutinizing Bush’s record
Don Wycliff

`While, as you may remember, I have no faith in the Chicago Tribune, today’s paper highlighted an issue that I believe might be worth your consideration,” Jeffrey L. Clark of Chicago wrote in an e-mail to me on Monday afternoon.

Not the most auspicious way to begin a conversation, but it turned out that he really did have a valuable point to make.

The “issue” to which he referred was the difference of opinion between Commentary page columnists Dennis Byrne and Derrick Jackson about the reasons for the war in Iraq. More accurately, it was their difference of opinion about what President Bush has given as the reasons for the war.

Clark noted that Byrne had cited a Bush speech, delivered about a month before the start of the war, in which, according to Byrne, the president “clearly state[d] that the war wasn’t just to find and destroy Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.”

Jackson, however, asserted that the war “was waged over what turned out to be a lie, the non-existent weapons of mass destruction” and that Bush “seamlessly switch[ed] his stated reasons from the unique horrors of weapons of mass destruction to liberating an oppressed people” after the weapons turned out not to exist.

“Why is it that at this late date a newspaper like yours … would allow different writers, news reporter or columnist, to continue to justify their opinions by stating directly opposite versions of facts which are of record?” Clark asked.

“The facts are out there. I thought it was your jobs to get them straight. While that may be a tough job, it is [I thought] the media’s job. Particularly on a factual issue as open and repeated as this, do your jobs, get the transcripts, decide which is right, and stop printing phony `facts’ in your newspaper.”

Clark is absolutely right about the nature of our job. As scholars Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman have written, one of the key roles the press performs in our society is to act as “custodian of fact.” And, they add, “every successful deception or persistent public misconception can be understood in part as a failure on the part of the press in its role as custodian of fact.”

Unfortunately, in a case like this one, establishing the facts, as opposed to the “phony” ones, is not as simple as getting the transcripts and deciding which rendition of them–Byrne’s or Jackson’s–is right. That’s like saying: Get a copy of the Constitution, read it and then decide which party in any of the myriad cases that come before the federal courts each year is right.

I spent several hours Tuesday reading on the White House Web site all the statements made by the president about Iraq from January 2002 until the start of the war in March 2003. And I can state unequivocally that Bush said what Byrne says he said and what Jackson says he said also.

At various times, Bush had Saddam Hussein already in possession of weapons of mass destruction, or developing them, or merely wanting them. In whichever case, Hussein was “a grave and gathering danger” and the U.S. would lead the world in confronting him. And, the Iraqi people were grievously oppressed and needed to be liberated. The fact is that for someone looking to prove a point in this debate on the basis of the president’s statements, there is a speech, a statement, a fragment to cover every situation. If the game is Gotcha!, then there’s a prize for everybody.

But as we all know, communication is a more complicated process than just having a speaker touch all the rhetorical bases. To begin with, it is a two-way street, and the attitudes and prejudices and dispositions of the hearers are as important as the words of the speaker. That principle is as old as Aristotle, and Bush and his people understand it as well as any administration ever to occupy the White House.

How many Americans would have agreed to dispatch an invasion force the size of that used in Iraq if they had been told the sole purpose was to stop Saddam Hussein from oppressing his own people? You probably have fingers left over after counting them up.

Now consider this quote from Bush’s Oct. 7, 2002, speech in Cincinnati–his first major public salvo in the run-up to the war and one that only Fox of the major broadcast networks saw fit to televise live:

“Tonight I want to take a few minutes to discuss a grave threat to peace, and America’s determination to lead the world in confronting that threat. The threat comes from Iraq. It arises directly from the Iraqi regime’s own actions–its history of aggression, and its drive toward an arsenal of terror. Eleven years ago, as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi regime was required to destroy its weapons of mass destruction, to cease all development of such weapons and to stop all support for terrorist groups. The Iraqi regime has violated all of those obligations. It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. It has given shelter and support to terrorism, and practices terror against its own people.”

To be sure, Mr. Clark, the documentary record is “out there” and readily available. But decoding the meaning is not so simple as you make it out to be. That’s why we don’t demand that all our commentators speak with one voice–or even from one set of “facts.”

[Don Wycliff is the Tribune's public editor. He listens to readers' concerns and questions about the paper's coverage and writes weekly about current issues in journalism. His e-mail address is [email protected]]

Chicago Tribune,
July 11, 2005
Cowards we are not
Dennis Byrne

Now is the time to ask whether we’re winning the war on terror.

With the terrorists showing they can fatally strike anywhere, anyway and anytime, maybe we’ve blown it. Maybe the idea of homeland security is an opiate. Maybe we shouldn’t have started this mess in the first place. Maybe we can’t win a war against an invisible enemy.

Maybe we should just go away and climb into a hole.

The problem with that is the enemy won’t let us. They’ll keep coming after us, just like they did before Sept. 11, 2001, when we finally accepted the idea we were in a war and returned fire. Even if we wanted to surrender, how could we? What would stop the terrorist bloodletting? Remove ourselves from the world? Obliterate our culture? Turn our governance over to a violent form of religious despotism?

That’s the problem with fighting an enemy whose goals are foggy at best. Ours, though, are quite clear, and just as it’s time to ask whether we have achieved them, it’s also time to review those goals so that we’re unified. It doesn’t help to have some folks trying to redefine the goals in midstream to help advance their own political agenda by dividing us.

A good statement of our purposes came from President Bush in a speech on Feb. 26, 2003, before the American Enterprise Institute, about a month before the Iraq war began. The speech, available in video and audio at whitehouse.gov, clearly states that the war wasn’t just to find and destroy Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, as Bush’s critics would have it. A fair-minded person listening to that speech would have to agree that the president saw this as more than just a defensive war against someone or something. It’s a war for freedom and stability, especially in the violent and oppressed Middle East.

A liberated Iraq can transform the region by bringing “hope and progress to millions of lives. America’s interest in security and America’s belief in liberty both lead in the same direction: To a free and peaceful Iraq. The first to benefit would be the Iraqi people themselves.” Nowhere did he suggest that once having found (or not found) and destroyed weapons of mass destruction, we’d get out.

Bush described the Iraq war as only a piece of a larger war, not just against a form of fighting (terrorism), but for the advancement of fundamental human rights. “The threat to peace does not come from those who seek to enforce the just demands of the civilized world,” he said. “The threat to peace comes from those who flout those demands.” As Saddam Hussein did when he spat in the eye of the United Nations, violated the terms of his surrender in the gulf war and committed acts of war by firing on U.S. and coalition planes in the no-fly zone.

Bush did not keep these goals secret. They were not covered up in a plot to deceive a nation. They were openly and clearly stated. We can’t, while being true to ourselves, now say we should fold because the war continues, or because we didn’t achieve what is misleadingly claimed to have been the major goal (the removal of weapons of mass destruction) or that the battle for freedom in Iraq is not yet completed.

So, we have a scorecard–our own, not the enemy’s–to measure whether we are making progress in this war, or losing it. Have we created peace and stability in Iraq? No. Have we increased the possibilities for liberty in Iraq and the Middle East? Yes. Have we demonstrated that we are willing to fight for the oppressed? Yes. Are we near the end of the war? Probably not.

The war will end not just when the enemy runs out of fanatics willing to blow up themselves and innocents. The absence of violence is not peace, and the destruction of a tyrant is not freedom. As we discovered in our own history, it takes years, decades, if not centuries, to create full measures of liberty, peace and security. And we’re still working on it. But by our own measures, the enemy is losing.

As Bush said: “We go forward in confidence, because we trust in the power of human freedom to change lives and nations … Free people will set the course of history and free people will keep the peace in the world.” He could have added, “We must.”

[Dennis Byrne is a Chicago-area writer and consultant.]

Chicago Tribune
July 11, 2005
A look in the mirror for America
Derrick Z. Jackson

In his initial reaction last week to the London transit bombings, President Bush decried “people killing innocent people.” He said: “The contrast couldn’t be clearer between the intentions and the hearts of those of us who care deeply about human rights and human liberty and those who kill–those who have got such evil in their heart that they will take the lives of innocent folks.”

This came a little more than a week and a half after Bush invoked the innocent in his Fort Bragg, N.C., speech in an attempt to shore up sagging American support for his invasion and occupation of Iraq. Doggedly tying the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to Saddam Hussein even though no tie existed, Bush said of global terrorists: “There is no limit to the innocent lives they are willing to take. We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who exploded car bombs along a busy shopping street in Baghdad, including one outside a mosque. We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who sent a suicide bomber to a teaching hospital in Mosul. We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who behead civilian hostages and broadcast their atrocities for the world to see.”

Bush also said the enemy will fail. “The terrorists can kill the innocent, but they cannot stop the advance of freedom,” he said. Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair said the “slaughter of innocent people” will fail to cower the British people, and Canada’s Prime Minister Paul Martin called the attack an “unspeakable attack on the innocent.”

It was all appropriate in the moment. In a greater context, there is a tragic hollowness. The world, of course, shares the sympathies of Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, who said the London bombings were a “despicable, cowardly act.” Yet every invoking of the innocents also reminds us of our despicable, cowardly killing of innocent Iraqi civilians.

Or perhaps you forgot about them. That was by design. We have rightfully mourned the loss of nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11. We have begun mourning the loss of more than 50 people in London. We have mourned the loss of more than 1,700 U.S. soldiers, who, bless them, were following orders of their commander in chief. But to this day, there has been no major acknowledgement, let alone apology, by Bush or Blair for the massive amounts of carnage we created in a war waged over what turned out to be a lie, the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.

These innocents never existed, either in Iraq or Afghanistan. “We don’t do body counts,” said both Gen. Tommy Franks, former commander in Iraq, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. When Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt was asked about the images of American soldiers killing innocent civilians on Arab television, Kimmitt said: “My solution is quite simple: Change the channel. Change the channel to a legitimate, authoritative, honest news station. The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda. And that is lies.”

The United States waged its own war of propaganda by refusing to conduct a legitimate, authoritative, honest accounting of the deaths of innocent civilians. As it urged people to change the channel, the Bush administration cut off all channels to finding out what we did to women, men and children who were shopping, working, or leaving their mosques. In an invasion based on falsehoods, the truth of the civilian carnage might have been too hard for Americans to take, and support for the war might have ended in the first few weeks.

The propaganda of an invasion with invisible innocents surely allowed Bush to seamlessly switch his stated reason from the unique horrors of weapons of mass destruction to liberating an oppressed people. It is a lot easier to tell the world you are their great liberator if you do not have to own up to the thousands of dead people who will never get the chance to vote in that free election.

Worse, this denial of death, in a war that did not have to happen, is sure to fuel the very terrorism we say we will defeat. The innocents in the so-called war on terror are always “our” citizens or the citizens of our allies. The only innocent Iraqis are those killed by “insurgents.” Our soldiers clearly did not intend to kill innocents. But this posturing of America as the great innocent, when everyone knows we kill innocents ourselves, is likely only to make us look more like the devil in the eyes of a suicide bomber.

[Derrick Z. Jackson is a syndicated columnist based in Boston.]

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